Do you wish you were more like your bestie who has all their ducks lined in a row? You know who I’m talking about: the one with the impeccable organizational skills, who manages to sift through a hefty number of tasks in next to no time.
The truth is it’s not that hard to develop this transferable skill, and once you’ve mastered it, you’ll be able to get through even the most challenging times and become more efficient in the process.
All you have to do is make a few tweaks to your normal schedule, and we’ve listed the steps you need to follow to achieve your goal of becoming better organized.
Watch these eight easy steps to get more organized at work:
1. Make a plan
Without adequate planning, certain details are likely to fall through the cracks. So, whatever you’re working on, it’s important to spend time figuring out what tools and resources are needed, how much time is necessary to carry out the task and what is the correct strategy to follow.
This goes for your career goals, too. For example, let’s say you want a promotion by the end of the year. In order to make it happen, you’ll need to prove why you deserve it and that you have all the necessary professional skills — so, set yourself some achievable goals to work towards and to keep you motivated throughout the year.
2. Create a to-do list
Make a new to-do list on a daily basis with all the things you need to do for the day (even if it’s something simple like filing or food shopping). By doing so, you won’t forget anything, and you’ll also feel more productive as you tick off the tasks you complete.
To take things to the next level, prioritize the items on your list from high to low priority. You can do this by color-coding or numbering items, so you know which ones to complete first. On that note, it’s sometimes easier to prepare your list at the end of the day for the following day — that way you’ll be able to get straight down to business once you wake up.
3. Take notes in meetings
If you find yourself in another boring work meeting, you might think that you don’t need to take any notes and that you will simply remember everything that’s discussed. But let’s be honest: as soon you leave the room, you instantly forget what the whole point of the meeting was to begin with.
Taking notes will help you in the long run, especially when your boss is advising you about instructions for completing a specific project. That way, you won’t have to bother them with questions (that were probably already addressed in the meeting) and you’ll effectively be able to demonstrate how organized and proactive you are.
4. Use a diary
An annual diary or calendar, like this Panda Pro diary [paid link], can really help you get your thoughts together and get organized. Use it to schedule appointments, make a weekly food menu and write down all your tasks, and allocate times to each event to ensure you make the most of your day. That said, it’s most likely that your day won’t go exactly as planned (for example, a last-minute change might come up that will need your urgent attention), so allow some time for emergencies.
5. Declutter your brain
It’s no secret that workplace stress will hold you back from doing your job. You’ll only end up unnecessarily wasting time worrying about things. That’s why it’s important that you declutter your brain and to take on one task at a time — not try to multitask and accomplish too much in one go.
You could also try meditating in the morning to get rid of any stress and negative thoughts. In fact, mindfulness in the workplace is known to reduce stress, anxiety and depression, according to the American Psychological Association.
6. Invest in storage folders
It’s amazing what an impact a few pieces of stationery can make to your psyche and your overall organization. Whether it’s for your house, classroom or office, investing in some storage bins, folders and trays to separate your belongings will make you instantly feel better.
7. Label your documents
What’s the point of having new and shiny files if you don’t know what’s in them? To truly reap the benefits of your newly organized desk or wardrobes, use labels to identify what’s in each of the storage bins with this NIIMBOT label maker [paid link]. That way you’ll save time on sifting through piles of scrap paper or boxes of clothes to find the items that you need.
8. Have a ‘to-do’ and a ‘done’ pile
If you’re dealing with a number of different tasks at once, keeping two separate trays (one for tasks that need to be done and another for tasks that have already been completed) might prove incredibly useful. You can even separate tasks in the ‘to-do’ tray with see-through sheets, so you know how many are left to be actioned.
9. Create your own filing system
A good personal filing system is essential for any professional. For example, you can create files with subfolders and separate your documents by category: invoices, receipts, doctor’s notes, contracts, projects, etc. Depending on your lifestyle, you’ll have your own preferred method, whether it’s in paper form or by using electronic devices.
10. Organize your desktop
If you’re guilty of having a messy computer desktop, it’s time to get sorting. Start dragging loose documents into categorized folders. You can even arrange the system on your shared server. For example, if there is a manual that your colleagues or classmates all follow but the files are saved all over the place, you can organize them into one neat folder that’s easy for everyone to locate.
11. Throw away unnecessary items
We’re all guilty of hoarding items we don’t need, whether it’s an empty deodorant bottle at the back of our draw or printouts from two years ago.
It’s time to get rid of all that unnecessary junk and have a cleaner workspace or home. Allocate yourself half an hour at the end of the day every Friday to throw away unnecessary items and get organized so you are ready to start afresh by the time Monday comes back around. You could even look at redesigning your office space to improve your productivity.
12. Use tech tools
In today’s digital age, there are thousands of apps designed to help us stay focused and organized. If you prefer using technological devices, you can tap into a few apps to help you stay on track. Some great recommendations include Infinity for your to-do lists, Beep Me for setting reminders (iOS only), the TripIt for making travel arrangements and Clockify for tracking all your tasks.
13. Manage your time
Being able to manage your time effectively is one of the most useful skills you can have in life. If you give yourself a certain amount of time to complete one of your duties, you’ll be able to trim off any unnecessary hours off your day.
So, instead of complaining about “not having enough hours in the day”, you’ll now be able to use those hours wisely, ensuring you complete, if not everything, most of what you set out to do.
14. Be an early bird
You’re most likely to achieve more out of your day if you wake up early. So, instead of rolling out of bed at 8:30am when you need to be in the office or classroom at 9am, why not wake up a little earlier? You’ll be able to get a good breakfast and maybe even squeeze a quick workout in. Not only will this ensure you’re awake and full of energy, but it will also prepare you for the day ahead.
15. Learn to delegate
Being able to delegate well is an acquired skill that many professionals lack. You should identify what skills your contemporaries have and how they can be used to achieve the best results for the entire team. Remember: although you might want to do everything yourself, it won’t be productive. Someone on your team may be better experienced in handling certain tasks, leaving you to focus on other important matters.
16. Take regular breaks
Regular breaks are needed to stay focused and productive. If you don’t take a break often, you end working long hours, lose focus and procrastinate because it’s impossible to stay focused for a long period of time. Certain research confirms that most people only focus for one to four hours of laborious work per day.
So, give yourself a period of time (say 40 minutes) to crack down on some work before you take a short 5–10-minute break to recharge your batteries and refocus. If you have a sedentary job, use this time to get up and walk around or do some stretching to get your blood flowing.
17. Track your progress
To make sure that you achieve your goals during your set period of time, it’s wise to track your progress with productivity apps. By doing so, you can identify when you’re most productive, and also review how much you can achieve each day. For example, you may notice that you’re most productive first thing in the morning and can achieve two to three important tasks per day.
You can log the time you worked, the time you spent on a specific task and when you felt most energized during the day. At the end of the week, review your notes to identify your peak working times.
18. Use a timer
Another great way to keep track of your time to improve your organization is by incorporating a timer into your daily routine. If you don’t want to keep clock-watching, set a timer to judge how long it takes to complete certain tasks. At the end of the week, you will see what consumes most of your time and where it can be reduced to make you more efficient. While a simple phone timer will do, you can always download a time-tracking app to your desktop that will give you a detailed report at the end of your day.
19. Time-block your calendar
Allocating time for a task is a great way to maximize productivity. Similarly, it’ll also show coworkers when you’re busy and they will know not to disturb you (if they have access to your digital calendar), which, in turn, will limit distractions. So, to organize your calendar, block out time when you need to just get your head down and focus on one project.
20. Avoid multitasking
While a lot of people pride themselves on being able to multitask, it isn’t an effective skill to increase productivity — and according to research, it can waste up to 40% of your productive time. Instead of multitasking, focus your efforts on completing one project or task at a time. Doing so can prevent mistakes and lower your stress levels, since you’re not rushing to complete a handful of things during a particular timeframe. You will also feel like you’ve achieved more when you can work on a project from start to finish without any limitations or distractions.
So, as you can see there are plenty of elements to being organized at work. While it’s not a one-size-fits-all method, you can pick and choose the tips that will work for you and incorporate them into your daily routine to maximize your productivity. When we are more organized and tracking our tasks, we will naturally feel less stressed and achieve a better work-life balance.
If you like these tips and feel like you’re already organized, check out these jobs for people who love organizing.
This is an updated version of an article published on 16 May 2018.